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Court: convicted former Massachusetts probation chief and deputy can delay prison for appeals

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BOSTON — Former Massachusetts Probation Commissioner John O'Brien and a former deputy convicted in a corruption case can delay their prison sentences during their appeals, a federal appeals court has decided.

O'Brien was convicted last year on federal racketeering and mail fraud charges and sentenced to 18 months. Prosecutors said he masterminded a scheme to rig the department's hiring process to favor politically-connected candidates.

Co-defendant Elizabeth Tavares also was convicted of racketeering and mail fraud. She was sentenced to three months. Both were to report to prison this month.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Friday that there is "a sufficient probability" the appeals present a substantial legal question that justifies allowing O'Brien and Tavares to remain free on bail during the process.

Another O'Brien deputy, William Burke, was convicted of the lesser charge of racketeering conspiracy and sentenced to a year of supervised release. He also is appealing.

Prosecutors said during a two-month trial that the defendants — led by O'Brien — created a "sham" process designed to circumvent the agency's merit-based hiring. Defense attorneys said the government didn't prove any crimes were committed. They also are challenging the instructions given to jurors in the case.

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